Celebrating The Sabbath On The Fourth Of July
While Reform Jews, along with the dumb goyim, will spend this evening watching thingies bursting in air, those of us in the Torah community will pray, sing, study Torah, wash our hands, eat a big meal, talk to our friends, drink alcohol, and engage in deep moral introspection. The entertainments of the secular world hold little attraction for me compared to the realm of eternal values. Thank you and God bless.
Happy Fourth Of July To Dave Robb
Liberal journalist Dave Robb, formerly of Variety and Hollywood Reporter and now working on a book about Hollywood and the military, emails me 6/3/03: "I apologize for threatening to beat you up. It was childish and unprofessional. ...If I ever see you in public, I will not punch you in the face -- as much as I'd like to."
Luke writes Dave Robb 7/4/03: "Hi Dave, Happy Fourth of July. How's your new book coming along? What's it about exactly? When will it hit stores?"
Dave Robb replies: "What meds are you on? We are not friends. Don't you get it? I hate your guts and will punch you in the face the next time I see you."
Khunrum writes: "This Robb fellow obviously needs some meds of his own. First he says he is not going to punch you in the mouth. Then when you say a kind word to him, he is. What a whacko."
Luke replies to Dave: "I'm taking 600 mg of lithium a day. Do you recommend that I adjust that dosage, or add something else to my psychotropic cocktail?"
Dave Robb replies: "Try cyanide. By the way, I know that you lied on your application to the Los Angeles Press Club. You listed among your journalism credits The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, the Village Voice and the Online Journalism Review. But you didn't write for any of those publications. What an indefatigable liar and phony you are."
Luke replies: "Where did I say I wrote for them? I wrote that I appeared in them. These were articles about me or mentioning me in those publications. By the way, how many books have you published? Zero?"
Dave Robb replies: "How many porno films have I directed while getting my cock sucked? Zero.
"Why don't you publish your LA Press Club application on your shitty little web site so we can see if you are telling the truth?"
Luke replies: "I don't have it but if you do, email it to me, or get it to me, and I will publish it."
Dave replies: "I have it but I'm not giving anything to you."
Luke replies: "Well, then, do I say in the application that I write for the New York Times, LA Times, etc? Because that would be a huge lie."
Dave replies: "Yes. You are a huge liar."
Cathy Seipp writes Luke: "Stop rattling Dave Robb's cage, you knucklehead. It's not nice, even if you're bored."
I guess I better listen to the adults.
Imbalanced and Toxic?
I asked the head of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ), Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, to participate in a UJ panel on Jewish journalism. I directed him to my discussion of Stephen Fried's book The New Rabbi. This book symbolizes to me great Jewish journalism.
Rabbi Artson replies, copying the email to Gady Levy, head of adult education at UJ: "Dear Mr. Ford; I did review your website, and find it imbalanced and toxic, particularly toward rabbis and Conservative Judaism. I am not willing to participate in your panel."
Khunrum writes Luke: "Those are serious charges. Yet, I don't think you have to defend yourself in court. I don't believe there is jail time involved. In which case, go back to bed and sleep for another hour at least.....I am."
Rabbi Artson happily expounds at length in private with his peers on how horrible The New Rabbi is and how un-Jewish and unethical it is, but I've yet to see him stand and deliver his thoughts publicly. How Jewish and ethical is that? Slam the book privately, challenge whether the author Stephen Fried believes in God and a Final Judgment, but when asked to publicly justify his harsh sentiments, Rabbi Artson refuses.
That so many Conservative rabbis, particularly Conservative leaders like Rabbi Artson, don't want to publicly discuss this book, The New Rabbi, makes it seem to many of us that they are thin-skinned control freaks who expect only deferential treatment from Jewish journalists. Unlike leaders in other spheres of life, such rabbis expect to not be critically questioned and held accountable by the news media. What's amusing is that they've always been able to get away with this stance due to the timid, deferential and generally secular approach of Jewish newspapers like the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
I asked Rabbi Artson many months ago for comment on this book. I referred him to the dozen or so interviews I've done on the topic with rabbis, Jewish journalists, and authors of respected Jewish books. I got no reply.
I wanted to discuss The New Rabbi and the state of Jewish journalism with various esteemed leaders of the Conservative movement and they've all broken my heart.
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum writes: "Dear Luke, I appreciate your asking for my opinion, but I'm regretfully have to decline. I learned quite alot from working with [author] Paul [Wilkes] and from the publication of the book. But, there were also some hard feelings created that took a long time to heal. Time to move on."
Conservative rabbis David Ackerman, Joel Meyers, Elliot Dorff, Perry Netter, and Perry Rank did not answer my requests for an interview about The New Rabbi.
Boohoo, no one wants to talk to me. Nobody will play Jewish Journalism with me. I guess I'll never be president of the kiddish club and a member of the popular crowd.
I'll go back to my corner now and keep quiet.
Amalek On Movies
Chaim Amalek writes:
Raising Jewish Kids In A Pagan America
Dave Deutsch writes:
AMALEK Tells the Jews What's Wrong With Their Religion
Chaim Amalek writes:
Barry Diller Bio
Feared investigative reporter William Knoedelseder is working on an authorized biography of his longtime friend Barry Diller.
On the Simpsons TV show, Barry Diller is the character Mr. Burns.
Do you think I have what it takes to be a fancy Hollywood reporter like you?
Dave Deutsch writes: "Whom would you rather marry: A white, completely non-religious Ashkenazi who thinks a mitzva is a sports car, or a dark African-American frum woman, who makes a heartfelt brocho (blessing) over every forty-dog of malt liquor she drinks?"
Luke says: "The black woman. I'd rather live with religious black people than secular white people."
Dave Deutsch writes:
Postville - The Movie?
Postville author Stephen G. Bloom tells me: "A lot of people said to me, 'Wow, this would make a great movie. It's like Witness.' Well, the Jews come out as the bad guys. It can't be made into a movie for a lot of good reasons. Who's going to make it into a movie? Look at Hollywood.
"If you run that, people are going to say, 'Gee, is he talking about the Jewish conspiracy, a cabal that runs Hollywood?' No. But a lot of Jews make influential and important decisions in Hollywood and this would make a tough sell."
Dave Deutsch writes:
I suggested this topic of discussion for a Jewish singles evening and now I've been asked to help put it together. Who should be on such a panel? Are there any prominent Jewish bloggers in LA?
The World's Worst Jewish Comedian Talks To Teenagers About Sex
Dave Deutsch writes:
Novelist Roger Simon Sells 100 Books At Brentwood Signing
Screenwriter turned Novelist turned blogger Roger L. Simon packed in a crowd of bloggers and media types to Duttons book store in Brentwood at 11975 San Vicente Blvd Wednesday night, July 2.
Khunrum writes: "Fear Factor. Screenwriter turned Novelist turned blogger.....Do any Advisory Committee members share my concern that there is a contagion sweeping the land. Like Mad Cow, like SARs, like AIDS....I worry about Blogg Fever....will everyone in the world eventually be turned into bloggers. It's a frightening thought."
Duttons is a leftist bookstore, prominently displaying the works of Noam Chomsky following 9/11 and stocking leftist rags in its coffee shop. It is owned by Gucci Marxist Doug Dutton.
Walking to the store, I see a resplendent Matt Welch (nice duds, shirt, tie) who praised my Sue Fishkoff interview. Even the goyim found it interesting. Cathy Seipp normally has little interest in my Jewish rants but she found the interview interesting. May it all accrue to my merit so I can find an Orthodox Jewish bride.
I discuss race and immigration with libertarian Matt Welch and moderate conservative Cathy Seipp. Matt says the anti-immigration crowd needs to get rid of the foaming at the mouth angry racists in its midst. I wonder what's so wrong with being angry and racist, so long as one does not act in an illegal or unethical manner. I don't care if blacks just want to hang with their own kind, or whites or Jews or whoever. I am amused when I find Ashkenazi Jews who hate Sephardic Jews and the like because I know if there were ever a need, Jews would come to each other's rescue, and go on hating.
Seipp says the Republican party boots its racists, like Pat Buchanan and Trent Lott. I repeat John Derbyshire's point that there are tens of millions of white Americans who do not like black people, and most of these whites vote Republican. And if they didn't, Republicans would never win elections. Matt says that's why he's not a Republican.
Mickey Kaus says facetiously that supporting gay marriage is Andrew Sullivan's secret way of steering the Democrats to political defeat.
Kaus does not agree with the recent 9th District Court ruling that appears to give list-server and posting board owners, and possibly bloggers, immunity from libel. He thinks they should have to meet the same standards as a regular newspaper.
I ask him if the LA Times has a cold spot for him due to his critiques of the paper. They've never written about him. Mickey, the opposite of paranoid, says no. Kaus says the paper has more than its share of self-hating types and his past criticisms of the Times would not affect their quoting him or writing about him.
I try to start a rumor that Kaus made People magazine's list of the top 25 eligible bachelors. He says not to because that would mean he's gay. Kaus says many, if not most, of People's most eligible bachelors are homosexual.
Kaus says he must not talk to me because I keep writing what he says in our private conversations on my site.
Eschewing alcohol, he seeks out a bottle of water.
Cathy says Mickey is as fastidious and picky about hygiene at restaurants as I am, while pork-eater Eugene Volokh (who has the most beautiful manners of any brilliant person I've met) loves checking out wild new places.
I spend most of my early time at the signing talking to Matt's friend Brian Linse, a blogger, post-production artist and neophyte movie producer.
Linse is a liberal. During the LA Riots in 1992, Linse lived in Miracle Mile, which was overrun with rioters (mainly black and hispanic). One started banging on his door, preparing to break in.
"They just don't respect the white man like they used to," I say, causing Cathy Seipp to stalk off in disgust, seeking a free glass of wine.
Being a good liberal, Linse did not own a gun. So he grabbed his baseball bat and started screaming like a deranged Vietnam veteran. The rioter went away. Linse now owns his share of weapons, including a shotgun. Wise man.
Brian introduced me to the energetic blogger Armed Liberal.
Linse started blogging in 2001, an early liberal blogger.
Ross Johnson, who knew John Holmes, says Wonderland is a great new movie. Val Kilmer gets Holmes to a tee. The movie says little about the porn industry, instead concentrating on Holmes's screwed up humanity, drug addiction, and role in a multiple murder on Wonderland Avenue in 1982. Val captures John's psychophantic side when he needed drugs.
Emmanuelle Richard (one half of the night's best dressed couple) is a titter over meeting actor Paul Michael Glaser, who played David Starsky in the 1970s TV show Starsky and Hutch. His acting partner David Soul is regarded as a horrible person while Glaser couldn't be more charming. He gives Emmanuelle his phone number.
Luke Thompson writes: "During [Roger Simon's] reading, Luke Ford was poking around the book racks outside looking somewhat suspicious. I told him he looked like a shoplifter. He seemed mildly stung by that assessment, responding, "I'm a pious Jew!" Dude, it's always possible to look like something you ain't -- I'm a master of that. Ford says this must be my kind of event, because I can knock back drinks quickly. Not exactly -- they don't really fill your glass at these things, as it's a "tasting." Besides, wine has never been my drink. I'm more of a beer and/or liquour person. I will take what I can get, though."
It's amusing to see how the godless entertain themselves, the wild gyrations they make to fill the emptiness of their secular lives.
After meeting her last week at the AJPA.org yearly conference, I email Sue Fishkoff, author of The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, for an interview 7/1/03.
She emails back: "Hi Luke, I'd be thrilled and honored to be featured on your site, which I think is brilliant. Someone sent me this week's site, where you wrote up Amy and me, and it made me laugh and laugh. You haven't lost a budding friendship with me at all--more like, kindled it. I may be kind and gentle (don't forget sweet and forgiving), but I like hanging out with mean, nasty folks so I can enjoy the fun without sacrificing my own karma. You know, I had no idea you were a writer when you showed up at the AJPA. Even when you said you had a website, I didn't cotton to it. So I was pretty surprised to see our little exchange in print! But as I said, it was fun to read. (But I didn't pay for the books---Schocken sent them for free. Never mind). Sure, call me about the book. But if you write anything I don't like, I'll rip your head off. Love and kisses, Sweet Sue"
We take it to the phone.
Sue: "You write gossip on all the writers, right?"
Luke: "That's what it is."
Sue: "You're so funny about trying not to stalk Amy [Klein, managing editor of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles]."
Luke: "I've got Amy Tourettes. Maybe there's a medication for it?"
Sue: "If there is, don't take it. Were you at her birthday party on Saturday or didn't you get that invite?"
Luke: "I didn't get that invite."
Sue: "You should complain about it in your next column."
Luke: "So how did you enjoy the AJPA conference?"
Sue: "Am I on the record?"
Sue: "It was ok. I liked the Hollywood panel. David [Lonner, Partner, The Endeavor Agency], said the Jewish media in New York and the pro-Israel lobby are much more hooked into Broadway than the LA [Jewish media and Israel groups] are into Hollywood. That Broadway stars are always showing up as keynote speakers at Israel fundraisers in New York while in LA, the Jews working in Hollywood try to distance themselves from the Israel organizations or just don't feel connected to Israel.
"It was fun to hear from one of the Sex in the City writers, even though he wouldn't tell us what's going to happen this season. I should have begged him."
Luke: "Was it invigorating to be around the best and the brightest of your profession?"
Sue, long pause: "Invigorating?"
Luke: "Were your nerve endings tingling?"
Sue: "I was sitting next to Amy Klein, so the answer is yes."
Luke: "How did the subjects of your book react to it?"
Sue: "With shock and awe? Not with shrapnel bombs at least. Clearly the emissaries, the shlichim, were happy to be in the book and the ones that I heard from were generally happy. Their whole life is about promoting their message. And if there's no publicity, they haven't promoted their message. That there's a book explaining what they do and people are reading it validates their entire mission."
Luke: "What percentage of them were happy and what percentage of them were not happy with the book?"
Sue: "Eighty six point four percent were happy and the others I haven't heard from. I have been getting angry calls from other Lubavitchers who weren't in the book or who were Messianists who said I didn't understand and I've been getting calls from unidentified Jews in Brooklyn who say that I don't understand how Chabad is trying to take over the world and they are very evil. I get between five and ten hate calls a day.
"If you want to see something mean that I wrote, look for my story in the Jerusalem Post when the Skirball Museum opened. I was writing as a high-on-the-horse Zionist just moved back from Israel, and I wrote that American Jewish history shouldn't end with the big Statute of Liberty, as it does at the Skirball Museum. I thought it was too parve an exhibit and too America-centered. Now I really like the Skirball."
Luke: "I'm looking in your prologue where you write that you aren't looking for scandal."
Sue: "You hate me for that, don't you?"
Luke: "I do."
Sue: "You're such a mean person. All you care about is scandal."
Sue writes in her prologue to her book: "There's a lot that this book isn't about. It's not about what's wrong with Chabad. One can find criminals and ne'er-do-wells in any group. Chabad is no exception."
Fishkoff thus separates her book from Stephen Bloom's blistering work Postville, a devastating portrayal of a Chabad community in a small Iowa town.
Sue: "I didn't use the word 'scandal.'"
Luke: "Why would you ignore the criminals and ne'er-do-wells in Chabad if they were shlichim?"
Sue: "Why did I ignore shlichim in 45-states?"
Luke: "Because you didn't have time."
Sue: "And because it was not necessary for the purposes of my book. Why didn't I write about the theology? The history of the movement?"
Luke: "I'm just interested in the scandal here."
Sue: "But it's the same answer. My answer to why I didn't talk about Pinchas Lew [Chabad criminal immortalized in the book Postville] because that was not my thesis."
Luke: "Did you turn a blind eye to wrongdoing that you witnessed?"
Sue: "I didn't witness anything. I'm sitting in somebody's house for three days. If any of the shlichim had committed a murder while I was there, for sure I would've written about it. That would've been fascinating. That would've been within the scope of my story. My story was about what I saw visiting the shlichim. When I was doing extra research, that was to support what I found in my reporting.
"I happen to think the whole chapter on menoras get into what you might call scandal. By you it's not a scandal because nobody got murdered."
Luke: "And there's no sex. It was good legal reporting."
Sue: "And also coming into a community, steamrolling in, stealing lists of Federation donors, calling them up and saying, 'Give to my Chabad house.' It's not pretty but I was happy to write about it because it was part of the story. There's no sex and no murder and I do apologize for that."
Luke: "You received universally glowing reviews."
Sue: "Glowing but most of the reviews do say what they wish I had done differently."
Luke: "Was there anything common to that?"
Sue: "The Forward and The New York Times, the two reviews I take the most seriously, both wished I had talked more about specific conflicts in local communities and I agree with that. Both of them suggested I was too close to [her subjects] and was not critical enough. I do agree with that too. It was a first impressions book."
Luke: "And you're also a nice person, right?"
Sue: "I'm a very nice person."
Luke: "You're not dying to take scalps."
Sue: "No. I'm dying to get married. That's why I'm such a nice person."
Luke: "Did you find any potential mates in your research?"
Sue: "No, and I begged every single Chabad shaliach to find me somebody. But have they helped me? No."
Luke: "Why are you living in Monterey when you could be living in Los Angeles and mixing with the hundreds of thousands of Jews here, getting married and having 12 children?"
Sue: "Because I never thought of it in quite those terms. Because my family lives here and it's good for birthday parties..."
Luke: "Were you changed by your research?"
Sue: "Yes. I used to be a man.
"This is more fun than the AP interview I did yesterday."
Luke: "I bet The New York Times didn't criticize you for lack of sex?"
Sue: "Many people think that the Lubavitchers do not have sex. That's erroneous."
Luke: "How were changed by researching this book?"
Sue: "I feel much more at home in the overall Jewish community. I feel comfortable in an Orthodox crowd. I feel comfortable walking through a street of Hasidim. I feel more of a sense of kinship around other Jews I felt awkward around before. It's been said that the Lubavitchers actualize the Jewish values many of us talk about. I've found myself lately being aware of lashon hara (evil speech) and making shivah (comforting those who mourn) calls to people I do not know. I'm subject to this same American attitude towards death that most of us have. I shy away from it. If you don't know the family well, you think that they won't want to hear from you. It feels awkward to send a letter to a family you don't know to say how much their son or daughter meant to you. I've been doing it lately and hearing back from the families. That is something I would never have done before. I would've thought - that is not my place. I should stay away. Now I reach out, and that's because of Chabad."
Luke: "There's a widespread perception that Hasidim are dirty. Can you speak to that?"
Sue: "It's a stupid perception."
Luke: "What about the hole-in-the-sheet perception?"
Sue: "I didn't check their sheets."
Luke: "Did you ever talk about it?"
Sue: "No, because I know that is not true with Lubavitchers."
Luke: "What about other Hasidim?"
Sue: "That may be true. Certainly the story came from somewhere and it wasn't entirely invented but I'm not sure specifically which groups might engage in such perversion. It sounds like a form of bondage. Maybe it makes sex more exciting. I personally have never tried it."
Luke: "Which reactions to the book have most surprised you?"
Sue: "That the reviews are so positive and there has been so much interest in the book from the media. I expected it to be more of a small niche book. Once The New York Times review came out, which stunned me because it was so positive, that gave legitimacy to the book and other people started reviewing it."
Luke: "What do you love and what do you hate about the book?"
Sue: "I love the cover. I hate that I didn't have another year [to work on it]."
Fishkoff devoted 18-months to the book.
Luke: "What were your biggest obstacles in writing this book?"
Sue pauses. "I'm hesitating because the absolute honest answer to that I don't want in print. It's too personal. The biggest obstacles to the book were all inside my head."
Luke: "Your own feelings about the subject matter?"
Sue: "Yes, and about writing a book and being lonely and shutting myself up in a room for half a year to write it. And feeling that I'm not an expert and didn't have any business writing a book like this. Even though the publisher said to me specifically that was why she wanted me to write it. Because I was coming at it as a reporter and not as a self-proclaimed expert. I felt the lack of my own background and knowledge was an obstacle."
Luke: "Were most of the emissaries believing in the rebbe as moshiach?"
Sue: "Few of them did. Messianism was more widespread during the rebbe's illness. Since he died, it's been decreasing, but decreasing much more sharply among the emissaries than among Lubavitch communities. That is a function of class and of education as well as these are the people who are out in the world. Few emissaries are messianists. Of those who are, few of them will say it out loud. One who did say it out loud, who was shliach at New York University, has resigned. No coincidence in my opinion. At any rate, what somebody believes in his heart isn't as interesting for my purposes as what they're proclaiming."
Luke: "So David Berger is hysterical over very little?"
Sue: "For him, it's a matter of life and death because he believes in a flesh and blood Messiah. For him, it's very important what an individual Jew believes in his heart. And that a shochet who's slaughtering a cow should not believe in his heart that the rebbe is Messiah, for David Berger, that is of monumental importance. Me, I don't care."
Luke: "At what points did your own thoughts and feelings rise up and you had to battle them to do your job?"
Sue: "What are you talking about?"
Luke: "You might have strong feelings about various issues that clash with Chabad. It's sure to push hot buttons to immerse a secular person within the Chabad world."
Sue: "The only times I got close to that were at some classes where they were talking about the Afterlife in front of people who'd just converted. According to Orthodox Jews, and Orthodox Jews don't like to talk about this, in the Messianic times, all Jews will be resurrected along with the righteous Gentiles. That means there are non-righteous Gentiles who dissolve into the mists. Some of the converts were saying, 'How will I know if I'm going to be in Heaven with my family?' Being a [Orthodox] convert myself, that whole conversation appalled me. That reminded me of the ugly underbelly of Orthodox Judaism that we don't talk about - that Jews are a Chosen people who have an additional soul that enables them to be a holy people. All of that ugliness touches a bad chord in me."
Luke: "In Orthodox Judaism, it's difficult to do anything with non-Jews except business, except to make money off them. You can't eat with them or drink with them unless it is on your own terms."
Sue: "That's absurd for you to say. Orthodox Judaism does not restrict interaction with non-Jews only to making money off them, like you just said. Chabad shliachim do outreach to non-Jews and teach them about the Noahide laws [seven laws Judaism requires of Gentiles, such as don't murder, don't be cruel to animals, no incest or adultery or homosexuality, etc]."
Luke: "This sort of interaction is not intimate.
"Did you ever find yourself getting into arguments with the shlichim?"
Sue: "Sure. About Israel and Palestine, a lot. I'm very left-wing on that and they tend to be very right-wing."
Luke: "How do you think Chabad will do in America in this century?"
Sue: "I think they will prosper and become stronger in the former Soviet Union and in South America. And in this country, they will firmly take their place as a mainstream Jewish denomination."
Luke: "Did you find yourself relating to Reform and Conservative differently after your research?"
Sue: "No. I find myself now paying dues to my Conservative minyan."
Luke: "Was writing the book a harrowing experience?"
Luke: "What was hardest? The writing or the research?"
Sue: "The loneliness.
"Chabad doesn't keep its own history. I had to collect the background orally from various people and compile the stories into a coherent history. It was difficult to start from ground zero, sitting in a little bedroom in Washington D.C.."
Luke: "How did your friends react?"
Sue: "A couple of people tried to talk me out of it at the beginning. They said it would only bring me heartbreak. They knew it would be hard."
For the past ten minutes, Sue has been speaking in a whisper. "But most of my friends and family were much more positive about it than I was."
Luke: "Was there a difference between the way your Jewish and your non-Jewish friends reacted to the project?"
Sue: "My non-Jewish friends were completely positive. The Jewish reaction was more mixed."
Luke: "Do you believe in God?"
Luke: "How long have you been Jewish?"
Sue: "Twenty six years."
Luke: "Since you were five years old?"
Sue: "Since I was 19."
Luke: "Who do you admire in Jewish journalism?"
Sue: "Tom Friedman and the Forward, most of all."
Luke: "What did you think of the book Postville?"
Sue: "It was a fascinating lurid read, filled with stereotypes and lies."
Luke: "What were the lies?"
Sue: "A lie by omission. The town [of Postville] and the Lubavitchers reached a modus vivendi, an agreement, before he turned in the final manuscript, but he chose to end his story while they were still at loggerheads. That was deceptive. He could've at least put that in the epilogue."
Luke: "Anything else?"
Sue: "That was the only lie. The stereotypes were almost anti-Semitic in his depictions of the fat, sweating, sloppy, Hasidic Jewish butchers."
Luke: "You don't think they could've been accurate?"
Sue: "They could have been accurate but the deceptive part of it was presenting that as a picture of Hasidic Jewry. If you go to a slaughterhouse in Chicago and you talk to the workers and you present that as a picture of Americans, that's no more or less deceptive or accurate. Yes, probably those descriptions of those particular people were accurate but it was the context that was misleading."
Luke: "So you didn't frequently encounter the Hasidim he depicts in your travels?"
Sue: "No, because who was I interviewing? The best and the brightest at the top of the foodchain. I would've encountered the same people he did if I had written his book. That said, it's a fascinating book. I read it all in one night. He's a very good writer."
After thinking a second, third, and fourth time about our interview, Fishkoff has me delete more than ten paragraphs. So if you think the above was good, you should've seen the unexpurgated version.
I chat by phone with Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville. He's on Sabbatical in Miami Beach, where his wife grew up.
Stephen: "I haven't read [Sue Fishkoff's] book. I read Samuel Freedman's review of her book in The New York Times Book Review, in which he cites Postville. He says her book is an interesting read but it's a valentine. It doesn't really deal with some of the more complex issues of the Lubavitchers.
"You're a good journalist for trying to pin her down when she says it's filled with stereotypes and lies. What were the lies? She sort of backtracks and says a lie by omission.
"I am in contact with many people in Postville on a weekly basis. The town of Postville and the Lubavitchers have never reached an agreement. I turned the manuscript in in mid-2000. There was not an agreement reached in mid-2000. There is not an agreement reached in the summer of 2003. I am not sure what she's talking about. I go up to Postville and talk to people in Postville and there's still a civil war being waged in Postville. I can give Sue Fishkoff, you, or anyone else, the names of dozens of people who will tell you that they want the Lubavitchers out. That the Lubavitchers have ruined that town. Crime has increased. The nature of that insular community is not the same.
"I'm not sure if Sue Fishkoff has been to Postville, if she's listening to the Lubavitchers and that's their story... I chose to end the story while they were still at loggerheads. They are still at loggerheads.
"She also talks about the stereotypes are almost anti-Semitic. I don't think so. My job is to report. My job is to go up there, open my eyes, and write what I see. If I see people who are sweating, doing a difficult job that requires a strong back and a strong stomach, I'm going to write that. That they are Jewish, should that enter into some kind of self-censorship? Absolutely not.
"Then she backtracks and you smartly say, 'Don't you think those descriptions could've been accurate?' She says they could've been accurate but the deceptive part was presenting that as a picture of Lubavitch. No way. This book is about Hasidim in a tiny town 23-miles west of the Mississippi River, in a corner of Iowa sandwiched between Minnessotta and Wisconsin. It's not about Hasidic Jewry. It's about a town. The name of the book should tip off Sue Fishkoff that this book is not about the rebbe's army. It's about Postville. I'm not sure how more clearly we could've alerted the reader to that issue.
"Postville is a tiny town of 1400 that suddenly changed when 150 ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist Jews came and opened up a slaughterhouse."